I ended up staying in Da Lat quite a bit longer than I had originally planned - 6 days in total. Da Lat is a fairly large town up in the mountains of the central highlands, and thus has a much cooler climate. Its a very relaxed, sleepy place. Its also one the very few places in all of Vietnam that saw almost no fighting during any of the wars over the past century.
Before the French occupied the country, Da Lat was nothing more than a tiny village of montagnards. Only over the last few decades has the town developed into a college town / popular vacation spot for Vietnamese. The French built universities and elaborate homes in the area in order to avoid the harsh heat of the south.
Surrounding Da Lat are tons of waterfalls, mountain pagodas, montagnard villages and scenic roads. My first plan was to rent a motorbike and take off exploring by myself, but I ran into a nice driver who offered to take me around all day for what I would be paying to do it by myself.
Vinh turned out to be a great guide. He took me to several waterfalls, some temples, the “chicken village” (named for its giant concrete chicken statue), and a handful of landmarks around town. The sights were great and it was a beautiful day, but the best part was talking with Vinh about the war. I had just finished The Girl in the Picture the night before. Its the story surrounding one of the most famous photographs from the Vietnam War, of Kim Phuc running down the highway after being burned during a botched napalm bombing. The photo was taken just outside the city of Tay Ninh in southern Vietnam near a small village called Trang Bang. Just the week before, I rode the bus over that very same stretch of road on my way to visit the Cao Dai Holy See near Tay Ninh.
As it turns out, Vinh was born in Tay Ninh and served as a soldier in the ARVN (South Vietnamese Army) in the area during the war. At 19 he had to give up his life as a student of mathematics and joined the army. He knew the photograph well and the general story behind it, and shared a few other tragic stories. He spoke english well and answered my questions very openly - I learned a lot.
During the rest of my time I hung out with my new friend Kieu, watched plenty of World Cup games, read 3 books and ate lots of strange food. I’m now in Nha Trang…